Should You Upgrade to M3 MacBook Air or Save Those Bucks?

When Apple launched their M3 MacBook Air in March this year, they claimed that the new M3 chip is 20% faster than the M2. While that number may make you want to immediately toss your trusty M1 or M2 Mac and upgrade to the new M3, is it even worth it? That’s what we will set out to find and dissect in this guide. So, let’s save you some bucks (if we can), shall we?

M3 vs M2 vs M1 MacBook Air: Specs at a Glance

SpecsMacBook Air M3MacBook Air M2MacBook Air M1
Dimensions304.1 x 215 x 11.3 mm304.1 x 215 x 11.3304.70 x 212.40 x 6.10
Weight1.24 Kg1.24 Kg1.29 Kg
ProcessorApple M3
TSMC 3nm 8-Core CPU (4x performance cores and 4x efficiency cores)
8-core GPU (base), 10-core GPU
25 Billion Transistors
Hardware-accelerated ray tracing
16-core Neural Engine
100GB/s memory bandwidth
ProRes video encode and decode engine
Apple M2
TSMC 5nm 8-Core CPU (4x performance cores and 4x efficiency cores)
8-core GPU
20 Billion Transistors
16-core Neural Engine
100GB/s memory bandwidth
ProRes video encode and decode engine
Apple M1
TSMC 5nm 8-Core CPU (4x performance cores and 4x efficiency cores)
7-core GPU (base), 8-core GPU
16 Billion Transistors
16-core Neural Engine
RAM/Storage8GB unified memory/ 256GB SSD (up to 2TB)8GB unified memory/256GB (up to 1TB)8GB unified memory/256GB (up to 512GB)
Display13.6-inch, True Tone Liquid Retina IPS, 2560 x 1664 pixels, 60Hz, 500 nits brightness, Wide Color P3 Coverage13.6-inch, True Tone Liquid Retina IPS, 2560 x 1664 pixels, 60Hz, 500 nits brightness, Wide Color P3 Coverage13.6-inch, True Tone Liquid Retina IPS, 2560 x 1600 pixels, 60Hz, 400 nits brightness, Wide Color P3 Coverage
Camera1080p FaceTime HD camera1080p FaceTime HD camera720p FaceTime HD camera
ConnectivityWi-Fi 6E (802.11ax)
Bluetooth 5.3
Wi-Fi 6E (802.11ax)
Bluetooth 5.3
802.11ax Wi‑Fi 6 wireless networking
IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac compatible
Bluetooth 5.0
PortThunderbolt 3/USB 4 x2, 3.5 mm headphone jack, MagSafe 3 charging portThunderbolt 3/USB 4 x2, 3.5 mm headphone jack, MagSafe 3 charging portThunderbolt 3/USB 4 x2, 3.5 mm headphone jack
Battery52.6Wh Lithium-polymer Battery52.6Wh Lithium-polymer Battery49.9Wh Lithium-polymer Battery
Charging30W USB C MagSafe Charger in the box30W USB C MagSafe Charger in the box30W USB C Charger in the box
PriceStarts at $1099Starts at $999Starts at $699


MacBook Air M3 vs M2 vs M1 Side Panel

The M3 MacBook Air is Apple’s latest offering and is understandably the most powerful Air to get right now. But, to upgrade to it from the M2 or M1 Air? That’s a different story altogether. When crafting the MacBook Air M3 Specs and Benchmarks writeup, I had the opportunity to use the base M2 and M1 Air as well. So, my evaluations and opinions below stem from that. So….

Should You Upgrade from an M2 Air?

For those unaware, Apple’s M3 chip is based on the architecture of the latest A17 Pro Bionic powering the iPhone 15 Pro Max. So, this is TSMC’s 3nm chipset we are talking about, and you get to make use of the Dynamic Caching that this new GPU architecture brings to your Mac.

Due to this, tasks like heavy editing and even gaming can be handled by the M3 without breaking much sweat. You can actually enjoy the limited number of AAA titles like Resident Evil 4 Remake and Death Stranding at appreciable frames per second.

Even the Geekbench and Cinebench benchmark results were either very close or similar to those of the M3:

BenchmarksApple MacBook Air M3Apple MacBook Air M2
Geekbench 6 Single-Core29972578
Geekbench 6 Multi-Core116179654
Geekbench GPU OpenCL2584727567
Geekbench GPU Metal4148241421
Cinebench R24 Single-Core141121
Cinebench R24 Multi-Core519518

On top of that, Apple went back to using an extra NAND chip with the M3 Mac, which gives it significantly faster read and write speeds than its predecessor. To be precise, when I tested it out, the M2 was almost 50% slower than the M3.

BlackMagicM3 256GBM2 256GB
Read Speed2026.8MB/s1303.3MB/s
Write Speed2839.6MB/s1478.3MB/s

Besides, while both the M3 and M2 feature the same 16-core Neural Engine, the M3’s 3nm fabrication process allows it to make use of it better. While these things appear like an upgrade on paper, when I used both machines, I honestly couldn’t feel that stark a difference. For day-to-day tasks and even multitasking like a madman, even the M2 got me through those without any issues.

If you ask me, stick to your M2 Air. Of course, if you want more storage and RAM, you can opt for the M3’s higher variant and get yourself a future-proof upgrade at the same time. If not, no reason to do so at all, especially in terms of regular performance.

Should You Upgrade from an M1 Air?

However, if you are using an M1 MacBook Air, there are a couple of things to consider here. First and foremost, do you have the budget to go for a $1,099 M3 Mac? If not, don’t be disheartened. If you don’t have to do some advanced editing or 3D rendering, you won’t need an M3 Mac. I have colleagues who have been using an M1 Mac for years and are still very content with it.

While the M3 is 60% faster than the M1, again, I didn’t notice a considerable difference in day-to-day performance to recommend an upgrade. Most importantly, when I exported a 4K 30 FPS file on Final Cut Pro on both devices, the M1 took only a negligible second less.

Even when running the BlackMagic Disk Speed Test on the M-series Macs, the M1 mysteriously delivered the best numbers.

BlackMagic M3 256GBM2 256GBM1 256GB

Even when running Geekbench on the M1, it was surprisingly not too far behind in the single and multi-core CPU tests. The only area where it was lagging behind was in the OpenCL and Metal GPU tests, showing around 36-47% decrease in scores, compared to the M2 and M3 Macs.

BenchmarksApple MacBook Air M3Apple MacBook Air M2Apple MacBook Air M1
Geekbench 6 Single-Core299725782375
Geekbench 6 Multi-Core1161796548707
Geekbench GPU OpenCL258472756713507
Geekbench GPU Metal414824142130362

See what I mean? This goes to show how revolutionary the M1 Mac was and still is in terms of performance, that it’s still capable of holding its own four years later. But, if you are coming from the M1 and want a major increase in performance ratio, the M3 Mac is the way to go. Especially, since the M3 Mac is only around $100 dollars costlier than the M2 Air.

Design and Display

While the M2 and M3 MacBook Airs look the same, the M1 looks generations behind. There are a couple of things that make the M2 and M3 stand out. For starters, it’s the uniform thickness all around while the M1 comes with the older tapered design in the body. You also get to see more rounded corners on the M2 and M3, making the design appear a lot more refined.

Secondly, both the M2 and M3 also come in this gorgeous Midnight Black color option, which the M1 misses out on. Then comes the addition of a notch alongside narrower bezels on the M2 and M3. Whereas, the M1’s bezels look slightly more outdated in comparison. The M1 retains the design of older Intel-powered 2018 MacBooks. So, visibly, the M2 and M3 are a refreshingly aesthetic and much-needed change.

Moving on to the display, there’s not much of a difference here. The M2 and M3 feature a Liquid Retina IPS display of 2560 x 1664 pixels. In comparison, the M1’s display sports a resolution of 2560 x 1600 pixels. As for the refresh rate, all three generations of MacBook Air bring 60Hz to the table. So, nothing special there.

The difference lies in the brightness levels of the Macs. While the M2 and M3 displays deliver 500 nits of brightness, the M1 stays behind by 100 nits. However, the M3 MacBook Air takes the crown with a productivity advantage here.

MacBook Air M3 M2 and M1 Display Comparison
MacBook Air M3, M2 and M1 (From L to R)

You can extend the M3’s display to up to two external monitors (with the lid closed). However, the M1 and M2 limit you to just one. So, let’s say you are planning on creating your own personal dual-monitor setup, the M3 is your best bet.

The M3 MacBook Air also offers a 15-inch variant, which the M1 doesn’t. However, Apple removed the M2’s 15-inch variant with the M3’s entry into the market. So, there’s that.

Battery Life

Finally, let’s dissect the battery life of the three silicone Macs. Over the years, with fabrication processes, the number of transistors has also been increasing on the M-series chipsets. So, while the performance of the chipsets has been increasing, they have also been becoming more power efficient. That’s why the M3 delivers the most juice of the three chipsets, delivering around 13 hours of backup on normal usage.

Meanwhile, the M2 Mac is not too far behind, delivering around 12 hours of backup. Meanwhile, the M1 Air gives you around 11.5 to 12 hours of backup as well. Honestly, there’s barely any difference here to go all out and recommend one on that basis. If battery life is your concern and you are already on the M1 or M2 MacBook Air, don’t need to upgrade to the M3.

M3 MacBook Air: Worth the Upgrade?

MacBook Air M3 vs M2 vs M1 Top Lid

Before drawing any conclusions, let’s take the pricing of the base models of these MacBooks into consideration first:

  • MacBook Air M3 Base: $1,099
  • MacBook Air M2 Base: $999
  • MacBook Air M1 Base: $699

So, let’s say that you have been on the MacBook Air M1 for quite some time now and want to upgrade to something better. In that case, you honestly don’t have to go all the way for the M3 if you have a strict budget of $1000.

However, if you are flexible in that regard, then the M3 could make you a bit more future-proof. Then again, if you only want to get some office work and multitasking in, I’d recommend sticking to your M1. For those set of tasks, it’s not worth shelling out $300 extra for the M2 or $400 for the M3.

Meanwhile, if you are on the M2 and are thinking of getting the M3, don’t. Apart from more powerful GPU capabilities and the dual external monitor support functionality, you don’t get anything extra. It’s the same design, but a bit more capable.

No matter how powerful the M3 is, I still won’t be recommending it for gaming or anything of that sort. Rigs with dedicated GPUs are the way to go for that. However, if you are into some regular heavy editing or rendering, nothing beats the M3 MacBook Air, and you’d be better off getting that.

Then again, for normal editing tasks, all the three MacBooks perform pretty much the same. It all comes down to how well they can handle the load over time, where the M3 takes the lead for its stellar GPU performance.

comment Comments 0
Leave a Reply